At a time when statues of Confederate leaders are coming down across the country, activists in St. Louis want to remove a statue of their city’s namesake: the medieval French king Louis IX, who presided over a notorious mass burning of the Talmud, issued an order of expulsion against his Jewish subjects and led two Crusader armies in unsuccessful offensives in North Africa.
A petition calls Louis a “rabid anti-Semite” who inspired Nazi Germany, and the call for the statue’s removal from Forest Park is drawing Jewish support. Rabbi Susan Talve, the founding rabbi of the city’s Central Reform Congregation, said taking it down would help advance racial justice in the United States.
Umar Lee, the local activist who started the petition, is not Jewish but started the petition because of Louis IX’s anti-Semitism. “It’s not necessary to have a monument glorifying the individual in order to recognize history,” he said. “King Louis IX will be in the history books no matter what we do in St. Louis.”
One defender, a Catholic activist named Anna Kalinowski, said that she reveres Louis IX as “a man who really wanted to follow God and [who] really wanted to do the right thing.” She feels his persecution of the Jews should be viewed in historical context. “Do we think that the way he went about that is wrong now? Sure. I mean, everybody has a right to their opinion on that, but at the time we can’t be so sure because we have to be careful and look at the context of his actions.”
The Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a strong statement Sunday defending the statue, pointing to the king’s charitable work with the poor and his reforms of France’s judicial system.
But Rabbi Talve said that even in the 13th century there were people who recognized that ordering the expulsion of Jews, burning their sacred texts and leading Crusades was wrong.
“You know what? Pillaging and looting at any time I think was wrong,” she said. “Asserting that your way is the only way I think is always wrong.”